One area of recent interest involves identifying language learners. If a child has difficulty in the language that is used as medium of instruction, learning can be severely compromised inside a classroom. For this reason, elementary schools in the United States screen students as early as kindergarten. In fact, Federal law mandates that states have a means of identifying English-language learners. The means, however, is not specified. Most states simply employ a "home language survey", which in some cases, involves the following question:
"...Parents like Garcia fear that by acknowledging the truth, their kids will be siphoned off from native English speakers or stigmatized, and could miss out on learning opportunities...."The consequences of the label can likewise, as one can imagine, vary from school to school, and from state to state.
As a student progresses, he or she can be reclassified. A student who now demonstrates proficiency in English loses the "English-language learner" label. In California, a longitudinal study is available that relates education outcomes to language learner classification. In the following figure copied from this study, RFEP corresponds to Reclassified Fluent English Proficient. The modal time for this reclassification is at 4th grade so "target" includes students who have been considered proficient in English right at 4th grade, while "pre" corresponds to students who have been reclassified quite early (2nd grade - 3rd grade), and "post" are those who have been reclassified after fourth grade. IFEP are children who said "yes" to the initial survey question (“Is a language other than English spoken in your home?”), but are deemed English-proficient at the beginning of school after testing. EL are those students who have never been reclassified while EO are students who said "no" to the initial survey question.
The above figure, of course, can be interpreted in so many ways. And one interpretation does strike fear in a parent's mind when his or her child is labeled "English language learner" at the beginning of school....